West Coast mainline row: Virgin Trains launch legal action in bid to keep London to Manchester route

By Mancunian Matters staff

Virgin Trains has launched a last-gasp legal battle to stop the Government from handing control of the West Coast mainline route from London to Manchester and Glasgow to a rival rail operator.

The court proceedings have been launched just hours before the Department for Transport was due to sign off a new 13-year franchise agreement for the lucrative route with FirstGroup, Britain’s biggest train operator.

It also comes after Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson took to the TV and radio studios at the weekend to appeal directly to Prime Minister David Cameron to overturn the decision.

Virgin claims that the amount that the FirstGroup has agreed to hand back to the Government in premiums is not sustainable and could lead to the firm going bankrupt before the end of the franchise.

Analysts fear that could trigger a repeat of the fiasco on the East Coast line in 2009 when National Express East Coast were stripped of its franchise after falling into financial difficulties.

Sir Richard said: “We had hoped that Parliament or an external review would be able to scrutinise this badly flawed process before the franchise was signed.

“However that opportunity would be denied if the DfT follows through with its determination to rush through the process before Parliament returns next week.

“That ignores the wishes of more than 150,000 people who signed the Downing St e-petition in 10 days, the Labour Opposition, two important Commons committees and many backbench Conservative MPs who wanted a debate before the decision is taken, not a post-mortem afterwards.

“We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the only course now available to try to unravel this sorry process.”

A statement from Virgin Trains said: “We have tried for three weeks to get clarity over the Department for Transport’s decision and to have a number of key questions answered. On each occasion we have been refused information.

“We are left with no choice but to commence Court proceedings as we believe the procurement process has ignored the substantial risks to taxpayers and customers of delivering FirstGroup’s bid over the course of the franchise.”

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